STATE OF THE BASE: Buckley revels in successful 2018, looks ahead to 2019

359

AURORA | Buckley Air Force Base’s impact on the Aurora economy surged in 2018, nearly eclipsing the once-steady $1 billion mark for the first time in several years. 

Buckley pumped more than $990 million into the Aurora economy last year, which was some $76 million more than what the base produced in 2017, Colonel Troy Endicott, commander of Buckley’s 460th Space Wing, told a crowd of more than a hundred people at the annual “State of the Base” address Wednesday.

“2018 was a good year for our base,” Endicott said during the event at the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel in Aurora.

Locally, Buckley invested about $157 million in Aurora through construction jobs, materials and other services, according to Air Force calculations. The base supported about 4,300 local jobs. 

Last year marked the best impact report from the local military base in at least five years. Buckley last pumped slightly more than $1 billion into the city economy at the start of the decade, according to Aurora Chamber of Commerce reports.

In the decade after Buckley became a full Air Force Base in 2000, the base consistently injected more than $1 billion into the Aurora economy each year. But those impact totals have sagged in recent years as much of the capital construction required to outfit the new base 20 years ago has been completed.

“The economic impact is really based on base construction,” said Kevin Hougen, president and CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, which helped host the recent address. “With payroll and purchasing … it’s really not that far off from one year to the other.”

Still, the base boasted nearly 40 construction projects last year, Endicott said. Some of those projects were the result of Buckley moving all of its medical services from the local VA hospital onto the base itself, a process the military completed last May.

Within the base’s fences, the past 12 months were historically busy for members of Buckley’s 460th Space Wing, who are tasked with tracking missile events around the world.

Global missile activity saw a surge in 2018, according to Endicott.

The base’s operations team reported more than 800 missile launches and 20,000 Infrared events across the world in 2018, Endicott said. That’s a 52 percent increase over 2017. 

Through a series of promotional videos comprised of TV news coverage, Endicott indicated heightened tensions between North Korea and Russia have elevated Buckley’s role as an epicenter for military security.

“In the past few months, the wider public has seen and stated what many of us have known for years: space is a war-fighting domain and will be at the forefront of any modern war,” said Endicott, a New Jersey native who has overseen the base since early 2018. “As our adversaries work to challenge and deny our space superiority, it is essential we continue to focus on today’s mission.”

Those increased threats could help protect Buckley’s status as a critical military hub while the Department of Defense considers the next round of Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) decisions in 2021, according to Hougen.

“We’re always, of course, wary of BRAC,” he said. “And while having the flying mission, the space mission, the helicopter mission, the National guard, having all five (military branches) out there doesn’t make us BRAC-proof, we’re better positioned than many other bases.” 

Hougen said officials from Buckley, the city and the state are also paying close attention to federal announcements regarding a possible sixth branch of the military: the so-called “space force.”

“We’re not just taking it lightly that the President is out there talking about it,” he said. “We want to make sure that as a state — from our mayors, to county commissioners, to city council members from Grand Junction to Durango to Pueblo and Colorado Springs — the whole state is engaged in this opportunity.” 

Endicott will be reassigned this summer, when Col. Devin Pepper, current commander at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, will begin his tenure overseeing the base of some 14,000 people.

Endicott declined to comment on the base’s potential for receiving F-35 jets, which officials like former Republican Congressman Mike Coffman have long lobbied for. 

Hougen said he believes Buckley won’t receive any F-35s for at least a decade.

“I do believe that as other F-35s come onto other bases ahead of us, we will get newer, more sophisticated F-16s,” he said. “But it might be about 10 years, in my option, before we get the F-35.”

As a congressman, Coffman introduced legislation to finance the purchase of land around Buckley in an effort to promote growth and stave off encroachment issues with surrounding neighborhoods. Coffman previously argued that increasing the buffer zones around Buckley would better position the base to avoid BRAC closure, as well as attract future F-35s. The newer jets have a larger noise signature than their F-16 counterparts, and are therefore more prone to peeve nearby neighbors.

To that end, Coffman helped the base secure about $26 million in congressional Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, known as REPI, funding for base expansion in 2017. Those dollars helped Buckley acquire more than 1,000 acres of land through annexation in recent years, Hougen said. Much of that process was completed in 2018.

Coffman, who recently declared his desire to become Aurora’s next mayor, attended the event Feb. 13 along with a gaggle of additional local officials, including multiple city council members, Arapahoe County Commissioners, and police and sheriff’s office representatives.